Postseason Grades: Brett Pill

The Postseason Grades series continues with a look at Brett Pill.

Brett Pill seems to be a AAAA slugger, inasmuch as those rare creatures actually exist. A career .301/.340/.511 hitter in over 1700 AAA plate appearances, Pill has never managed to break out during his 248 days on the big league rosters from 2011-2013. Looking a little more closely at Pill minor league record shows why he isn’t, and never really has been, a good candidate for greater playing time in San Francisco.

First, Pill’s four triple-A seasons happened during when he was age 25-28, a hitter’s physical peak. In general, a hitter will never be as good as he is when he is between the ages of 25 and 28. Second, the Pacific Coast League is an extreme hitters league. In 2010, the league had a .780 OPS; in 2013, it had a .756 OPS. In context, Pill’s .851 OPS during those years is not as impressive as it seems. In fact, Pill’s .340 AAA OBP is below the 2013 league .342 OBP. Third, a closer look at Pill’s stats reveal one huge hole in his game that has thus far been exploited in the majors: his batting eye. Although Pill has shown a propensity for avoiding the strikeout in the minors – career 12.9% K-rate, 11.4% K-rate in AAA – he also has shown an aversion to walks. In his minor league career, he has walked in only 5.8% of plate appearances, a rate that drops to 4.9% in AAA and 5.0% in the majors. From 2011-2013, according to the website MinorLeagueCentral.com, 62% of pitches Pill saw in AAA were in the strike zone. In the same time period, only 47% of pitches he saw in the majors were in the strike zone. While the percentage of pitches Pill swings at has stayed basically the same in the majors and minors (2011-2013: AAA Swing%, 50.9%; MLB Swing%, 51.9%), the percentage of pitches he sees in the strike zone has decreased by 15%.

A player without plate discipline is going to struggle in the major leagues. Yes, there are exceptions – there are always exceptions – but by and large a player has to be able to tell the difference between a ball and a strike. Pill is pretty good at making contact. His MLB career K-rate of 17% is decent, and his 77% contact rate is only a couple percentage points below the league average. If only he could hold off of a few more sliders, he could be a useful bench bat.

But Pill is 29 now. Baseball players are not known for making career-altering changes to their approach at age 29. In all likelihood, his time with the Giants is near an end. He was yo-yo’d around a bit in 2013 – he was called up from Fresno three separate times – and now he is out of options. Next year, the Giants must keep him on the active roster all year; if they want to demote him they have to put him through waivers first. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pill traded or waived outright next spring, or sooner.

Britt: C-

Reuben: C-

Nathan: C-

Overall: C-

Postseason Grades: Jeff Francoeur

The Postseason Grades series continues with a look at Jeff Francoeur.

Sigh. What is there to say about Jeff Francoeur? The numbers are ugly: 63 PA, .194/.206/.226, 2 extra-base hits (both doubles), one walk, twelve strikeouts. He was so bad. By this time next year, you will likely have forgotten Francoeur was ever on the Giants. Do you ever play the “who can name the more obscure Giant?” game with your friends? I sure do. In five or ten years, you will win that game if you can remember Jeff Francoeur.

The circumstances that led to his signing are defensible. He was good in 2011, and he’s been good against lefties in his career. With Andres Torres starting in center field after the injury to Angel Pagan, the team needed a right-handed platoon partner for Gregor Blanco in left field. The odds of Francoeur contributing significantly to the Giants in 2013 were long, but what did the team have left to lose? They had just completed a 10-17 June and they were 1-6 so far in July. They were in fourth in the NL West, 6.5 games out of first.

Brian Sabean and the front office were in a desperate situation. Instead of gutting the farm – like they did in 2011 to acquire Carlos Beltran – they decided to roll the dice of a few different long shots. Jeff Francoeur was one of those long shots. I can’t fault the thought process, even though it didn’t work out.

Besides, I personally have a soft spot for Francoeur, one of the good guys in the sport. I write up a paragraph about why, but Joe Posnanski has already done a far better job of that than I could:

Jeff Francoeur is one of the greatest guys in baseball. Everybody thinks so. He’s always smiling. He’s always friendly. On the field, he always tries. Lord, he tries. Runs out those grounders. Throws home with gusto. Off the field he’s always doing something cool like signing an autograph or chatting up a kid or appearing at a charity event or helping a teammate or talking to a young reporter who was nervously looking for someone to talk with. When you’re a kid, you might imagine how you would act as a big league ballplayer — and you would probably be imagining the life of Jeff Francoeur.

Well, you probably would imagine yourself a better hitter — which is the real life part of the story.

Francoeur will probably catch on with someone next year – he always seems to. He’ll likely toil away in AAA, or maybe he’ll have a hot spring and make a 25-man roster somewhere. I hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Jeff Francoeur. I just hope it’s the last we’ve seen of him in a SF Giants jersey.

Grades:

Britt: GDIP

Reuben: lol

Nathan: D

Overall: D

Postseason Grades: Kensuke Tanaka

Our series continues as Nathan looks at Kensuke Tanaka.

If he didn’t have such a great story, Kensuke Tanaka is exactly the kind of player you would forget about as soon as he was gone. You can’t sum up Tanaka’s season by looking at his stats (34 PA, .267/.353/.267); if I tried this wouldn’t be a very long article. Tanaka’s 2013 wasn’t about the stats; it wasn’t about the 15 games he played in, the 21 days he spent on the active roster, or the 0.3 WAR he contributed. It was about the culmination of a 14-year long journey, and a dream realized.

From a baseball operations standpoint, Tanaka was little more than a shot in the dark. When he signed with the Giants in January, Tanaka was a 31-year-old international free agent who had played the first 13 years of his career for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of the Nippon Professional Baseball League. A career .286/.356/.384 hitter in Japan, he was brought in to compete for the backup second base job, along with Wilson Valdez, Tony Abreu, and Nick Noonan. He didn’t get the job and went to Fresno, where he split time between second base and left field. He was called up on July 9th, and appeared as a left fielder and pinch hitter until he was sent back down on July 29th. Unfortunately, he was not brought up when rosters expanded in September.

Tanaka reportedly passed up a guaranteed contract worth $3 million in Japan to sign a minor league contract with the Giants. When asked why he would give up a guaranteed contract for a minor league deal with the Giants, he said “I wanted to learn the culture of America, I wanted to play baseball here. And I wanted a challenge.” (From an Andrew Baggarly column last spring.) Tanaka met that challenge head-on and gave it everything he had, even switching to a position he hadn’t played since 2006 in order to get a shot. A shot is what he earned, and he made the most of it, even getting a few highlight-reel plays in the process.

Listen to crowd in that second clip. Watch as the relief, exhilaration, and joy wash over his face. First career hits are often fun highlights to watch, but Tanaka’s has something special.

It feels a bit strange to end this post with our grades of Tanaka’s season, because his season wasn’t about the grade. On one hand, he was a largely-forgettable second-baseman-turned-outfielder. On the other, his season was the triumphant culmination of a life spent playing baseball, one that peaked with 21 days at the top of the baseball world. My hat is off to you, Kensuke Tanaka. Congratulations.

Nathan: B-

Reuben: C

Britt: C

Overall: C+

Postseason Grades: Francisco Peguero

Today on Covefficient, outfielder Francisco Peguero.

Frankie Pegs has been taunting Giants prospect mavens since his signing as an international free agent in 2005, at the tender age of 17. That bat speed! That athleticism! That gradually improving strikeout rate! THOSE TOOLS! Of course, the annals of every minor-league system are full of Toolsy Prospects who just could never put it together, and at the age of 25, Peguero is approaching his sell-by date.

He’s retained that bat speed, and while he doesn’t have true home run power, the ability to get around on a major-league fastball is sometimes enough to distinguish a hitting prospect. Unfortunately, in a year that might’ve seen Peguero log some noticeable major-league time thanks to Pagan’s injury and the inconsistency of the Blorres platoon, a concussion and a shoulder bruise limited his playing time, and he ended up with only 30 MLB PAs to go with less than 300 in Fresno.

Frankie didn’t look completely overmatched in the majors, swatting his first home run in the final game of the season (off a tough righty, even!) and limiting himself to two strikeouts with capable corner defense in his few chances. But he also displayed the limitations of how far tools can take you; most of his PAs resulted in groundout and he didn’t distinguish himself on the basepaths. In AAA, he had a .316 batting average but not much else, striking out four times as often as he walked and not posting any power numbers to speak of, a dangerous sign in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.

Verdict: As a right-handed hitter with the athleticism to fill in at center field, Peguero has an outside shot at filling the Giants’ 5th outfield spot in 2014; then again, he had the same shot in 2013 and lost it with a poor showing in spring training. (We’ll save discussion on the Giants’ tendency to evaluate players by their ST performances for some other time.) With Juan Perez as competition for the right-handed backup OF spot, Peguero could also end up as trade bait for a team hoping to capitalize on his tools. He turns 26 halfway through next season, and while he’s not over the hill yet, after eight professional season what you see with Frankie Pegs – high contact, reasonable defense, some stolen bases, and not much else – is probably what you’re going to get.

Grades:
Reuben: C-
Nathan: C
Britt: C
Overall: C

Postseason Grades: Ehire Adrianza

Our Postseason Grades series continues as Reuben takes a look at up-and-coming shortstop Ehire Adrianza.

It’s kind of weird to think about, but for a while Adrianza was considered a better prospect than Brandon Crawford. 18 months younger and lacking anything resembling power, he nevertheless dogged Craw’s heels throughout the minors thanks to a much lower strikeout rate, impressive footspeed, and a glove generally perceived to be even better. His likely path to the majors is similar – hit just enough to not be a total embarrassment, and make up for it by hoovering every ground ball in his general zip code.

Adrianza spent most of the year on Richmond’s AA squad doing a Manny Burriss impression at the plate. Upon promotion to Fresno, he posted numbers that, while strong even by the standards of the hitterish Pacific Coast League (Fangraphs grants him a 130 wRC+, or 30% better than the average PCL hitter), were inflated by a .391 BABIP and six triples* in 145 ABs. Either way, it was enough for a cup of coffee.

(*Not to knock Ehire, but minor-league triples can bear a suspicious resemblance to Little League inside-the-parkers.)

20 PAs and 45 defensive innings isn’t much to rate, but this play to nail Yasiel “Large Hadron Supercollider” Puig provided a good example of Adrianza’s defensive capabilities – great first step, good range, hellacious throwing arm. He also hit a dinger to ruin Andy Pettite’s last start in Yankee Stadium, so he’s got that going for him. Great defense, above-average speed, not much at the plate, fluky power in a hitter’s park – 9 games of Ehire Adrianza writ small. And hey, he’s already matched Burriss for career homers, so if you set that as a baseline his future looks bright.

Verdict: Ehire made no great strides, but didn’t go backwards. His total lack of pop might condemn him to a future as a utility infielder in the Cliff Pennington mold; then again, in today’s ballgame, Zack Cosart and Alcides Escobar are starting shortstops for conceivable contenders. (Of course, so’s Pete Kozma). Only 24 to start the 2014 season, he should be back in Fresno trying to develop that “keep-pitchers-honest” kind of power and maybe honing his glovework at 2nd and 3rd if the Giants think he’s more likely to help the big club in a reserve role.

Grades:
Reuben: B-
Nathan: B
Britt: B-
Overall: B-

Postseason Grades: Heath Hembree

Continuing the Postseason Grades series, let’s talk about Heath Hembree. Hembree also gets a grade of Incomplete – throwing only 7.2 innings in the majors will do that – but I wanted to spin him off into his own post because he should be a major part of the bullpen next year and for years to come.

Hembree was drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 draft out of College of Charleston, and since then has been perhaps the best relief prospect in the Giants system, ranking #3 in Baseball America’s top 10 Giants prospects list before the 2012 season and #7 on the same list before the 2013 season. He was invited to spring training this March and was expected to compete for a spot in the bullpen, but he wasn’t as good as advertised in Arizona and so was sent to Fresno to start the year. At the beginning of the year, lowered velocity and a poor slider led to a tough first couple months in AAA. On July 1st, he found himself with a 5.08 ERA and 16 saves in 33.2 IP.

That’s when Hembree turned it all around. He regained some of that lost velocity and worked hard to improve his slider, and from July 1st until his call-up he had a 2.45 ERA in 22.0 IP with 15 saves, breaking the Fresno Grizzlies team saves record along the way. On other thing that changed in that time period – his luck. From the beginning of the season to July 1st, his BABIP was .340. From July 1st onward, it was .273.

Hembree repertoire includes a four-seam fastball that sits 92-94 mph and touches 95 with good arm-side run, which is to say the ball tails inward to a right-handed batter. He also throws the aforementioned mid-80s slider as well as a mid-80s changeup. The effectiveness of that slider-changeup combination will dictate how successful Hembree can be against lefties and righties. For example, George Kontos throws primarily just a fastball and a slider, and while Kontos is effective against righties he has struggled against lefties without an effective changeup. So while Hembree’s development of an effective slider is important and encouraging, he’ll need to use his changeup as well in order to be a true shutdown reliever and not a specialist.

In the past, Hembree was marketing as a “future closer” type, once groomed to take over for Brian Wilson, now the same for Sergio Romo. With the struggles of the Giants bullpen this year – Sergio Romo is the only pitcher I would call truly solid, and your mileage on Santiago Casilla may vary – Hembree could find himself in a high-leverage role pretty early next season. I expect him to start out in a 6th/7th inning role next year, but don’t be surprised to see him shutting down the eighth inning before long.

Grade: Incomplete.

Postseason Grades: The Incompletes

I’d like to introduce a new recurring series for the offseason here on Covefficient: postseason grades for each and every player that appeared in a game for the Giants this year. The plan is to do one post per player per day until we’ve made it through all 44 players who played for the Giants in 2013.

The exception, of course, is today. Five players had 10 or fewer plate appearances or 10 or fewer innings pitched. One of those players is getting his own post, the other four are summed up below.

Johnny Monell, Catcher: 9 PA, .125/.222/.125. Grade: Incomplete.

Monell made his major-league debut this September after hitting for a .858 OPS at AAA Fresno during the year. He appeared in 8 games, 7 as a pinch hitter and once as a catcher. In that one catching appearance, he came in in the seventh inning of what would be a 19-3 Giants win over the Dodgers. He logged his first ML hit in the eighth inning (Video). Monell has a sweet left-handed swing and has a decent amount of power, logging 49 extra-base hits with Fresno this year, including 20 home runs. He’s been in the organization for a long time – he was drafted in 2007 – and it’d be nice to see him back in 2014. If not, he’ll get picked up by another club, likely an AL team given his poor defensive reputation.

Cole Gillespie, Outfielder: 10 PA, .000/.100/.000. Grade: Incomplete.

Gillespie did basically nothing in 3 games with the Giants before being picked up off waivers by the Cubs on July 13. He was a classic minor-league veteran pickup that Sabean likes to make; he had an OPS over .850 the previous three years at AAA in the Diamonbacks system. Minor-league free agent pick-ups are one of Sabean’s specialties. Sometimes they turn into Gregor Blanco, sometimes they turn into…well, Cole Gillespie.

Ramon Ramirez, Relief Pitcher: 5.2 IP, 11.12 ERA, 9 H, 2 HR, 5 BB, 0 K. Grade: Incomplete.

Did you forget Ramirez pitched for the Giants this year? You aren’t alone. RamRam, a deadline day pickup in 2010 and part of the Torres-Pagan trade after 2011, threw 26 fairly good innings for Fresno before being called up in late May. He was terrible in six appearances before being released on June 18th, and he ended the year in the Rays system. Ramirez was pretty bad for the Mets last year, so his implosion this year was not altogether unexpected.

Eric Surkamp, Starting Pitcher: 2.2 IP, 23.63 ERA, 9 H, 7 R, 0 BB, 0 K. Grade: Incomplete.

I’ll close with the player most likely to have a significant role with the Giants next season. Surkamp threw 26.2 innings for the Giants in 2011 and was expected to compete for a roster spot in spring training prior to the 2012 season. Instead, he sat out until July with forearm/elbow issues before deciding to undergo Tommy John surgery at the end of July. After a remarkably fast recovery, he made 5 starts with San Jose, then made four starts for Fresno before being called up to make a start less than a year after his surgery. I could write an entire post about why that was a poor decision, but what’s done is done. Surkamp got shelled and sent back to Fresno. His Fresno stats after his demotion are quite encouraging: 7 starts, 50.2 IP, 1.95 ERA, 38 K, 11 BB. Depending on what the team does in the free agent market, Surkamp could find himself competing for the fifth-starter job next spring with the likes of Mike Kickham and Ryan Vogelsong. He doesn’t throw heat, but he’s shown the ability to get guys out in the minors using deception and a plus curveball, and he could get the opportunity to show those skills in the majors next season.

Clayton Blackburn: pitching with a purpose

San Jose’s Clayton Blackburn has been on a lot of fans’ radar recently. The 20-year-old righty, known for an overpowering curveball, was recently named the California League Pitcher of the Week.

Clayton Blackburn tells you to deal with it. (Jen Mac Ramos)

Clayton Blackburn tells you to deal with it. (Jen Mac Ramos)

For Blackburn, a rough start to the second half has only lead to adjustments — ones that have helped him in his outings. His first start in the second half was at Stockton’s Banner Island Ballpark, a very hitter-friendly place, lasting only 3.2 innings and giving up eight runs, of which only six were earned. After working with San Jose’s pitching coach, Mike Couchee, Blackburn has been pitching at least six innings in his outings.

“I’d say they put a big focus on pitching [in San Jose],” Blackburn said. “They’re really focusing on us developing as guys that can pitch in tough places.” Continue reading

Tim Lincecum, the no-hit freak

No, it’s not 2008. Not 2009 for that matter, either. It’s 2013 — not exactly the best year for Timmy, let alone a good year for the Giants.

(Photo by -nanio-/Flickr)

(Photo by -nanio-/Flickr)

To explain the feeling a Giants fan might have after a game like this is tough. I know I certainly can’t explain it. Too many adjectives, too many incoherent thoughts. I can tell you it was surreal to be in the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (a Dodgers affiliate, no less) press box, watching Carlos Marmol try to close out the game for the Quakes against the Bakersfield Blaze whilst trying to watch the last three outs on my phone. (Baseball feelings, man; it’s certainly something. S’all I got to say about that experience.)

From the minute he made his debut in a Giants uniform, it seemed inevitable that Lincecum would throw a no-hitter. 2008 and 2009 went by, two Cy Youngs were won, and he flirted with no-hitters a few times to no avail. 2010, still a solid season, but no such luck; though there was more hardware in the form of a World Series ring and a trophy for the team. Continue reading

Why the Jeff Francoeur deal is pretty good in an awful way

No-hit.

Losing streak.

Batting out of lineup order.

Losing in 16 innings because of an error.

What else could possibly go wr—

Oh, hey, Jeff Francoeur, what up.

I am happy about this. Almost unironically. Can I explain it? No, not really. He’s an awful player. As it turns out, the Giants are pretty bad, too.

How does this help the Giants? Honestly, I don’t think it helps them at all. It’s not an upgrade, really. There’s really no reason to acquire a Jeff Francoeur-type, let alone the actual Jeff Francoeur.

Except for one. Continue reading